According to a draft report leaked today, the Japan Sumo Association is considering changes to its promotion rules, which have frequently been criticized as too vague and subjective. If the proposed changes move ahead, gone will be the days of speculating about what it might take for a wrestler to be promoted to Ozeki or Yokozuna after the next tournament; instead, the rules will be clearly spelled out.
Specifically, promotion to Ozeki will require 33 wins over 3 basho, all ranked in san’yaku, with double-digit wins in each basho, canonizing what many sumo fans already believe are the promotion criteria into hard-and-fast rules. As a consequence, Wakatakakage’s 9-6 at M1e in January would mean that we could put an end to any speculation about his Ozeki chances in May. Similarly, promotion to Yokozuna will require two consecutive championships at the rank of Ozeki, removing the pesky “yusho equivalent” clause that is the source of constant debate and confusion.
In a proposal likely to be viewed as the most controversial, the criteria would be applied retroactively. Of the current Ozeki, only Takakeisho met the new criteria during his run. Mitakeumi, who recorded only 9 wins in the first basho of his run, would keep his rank, but only by virtue of his 11-4 performance in March, while Shodai would be stripped of his rank. Similarly, the date of Yokozuna Terunofuji’s promotion would be changed from July 2021 to November, when he finally reached two consecutive yusho after becoming Ozeki. Ranks of retired Ozeki and Yokozuna would also be subject to review; for instance, Goeido would have his highest career rank changed to Sekiwake.
Another section of the report addresses banzuke movements below the top two ranks. It proposes that the current system of drawing up the rankings during a meeting of elders should be replaced by a computer algorithm, at long last bringing sumo in line with other major sports. “This is not the early 1900s,” reads the report, “and the rankings at the heart of our sport should not be subjectively decided during a sake-soaked meeting by group of men who spent their careers hitting each other in the head.”
NSK PR director Shibatayama was not available for comment. Reached at his residence in Ramat Gan, Israel, Moti Dichne, better known to sumo fans as Kintamayama, said, “Oh man, I guess this spells the end of Guess The Banzuke. Even if the NSK keeps the algorithm secret, the Sumo Forum nerds will reverse-engineer it in no time. It’s already bad enough when they talk about where someone should be ranked ‘by the numbers’. And to think, we’ve kept the game running for almost 25 years!”